NEW DELHI: A senior scientist with India’s top health research agency, Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), on Thursday said that virus isolates from 11 patients of coronavirus infection have been extracted successfully in India so far. This will allow the ICMR to study whether the strain prevalent in India is different from those in other countries, he said.
Experts believe that viruses are always mutating, especially RNA viruses like COVID-19. When someone is infected with the coronavirus, it replicates in their respiratory tract. Every time it does, around half-a-dozen genetic mutations occur.
Isolating and studying genome sequencing of viruses from a large number of confirmed patients allow scientists to examine the extent of mutation occurring as the outbreak progresses and helps assess if the infection is getting deadlier.
“We had first isolated viruses from the earliest two confirmed patients in Kerala who had returned from Wuhan in China. The genome sequence of those viruses were very similar to the ones reported from Wuhan. We now have more set of isolates to study the extent of variations,” said Dr R R Gangakhedkar, chief epidemiologist at the ICMR.
Scientists from Peking University in China, after studying virus isolates taken from 103 cases of coronavirus sometime back, had found common mutations aocations on the genome. The team identified two types of the virus based on differences in the genome at two regions — 72 were considered to be the “L type” and 29 as “S type”.
A separate analysis by the team suggested the L-type was derived from the older S-type. The first strain is likely to have emerged around the time the virus jumped from animals to humans. The second emerged soon after that, the researchers said. Both are believed to be involved in the current global outbreak. The fact that the L-type is more prevalent suggests that it could be “more aggressive”, the team noted.